Dear Arab citizens of Israel (or “Israeli Arabs” or “Palestinian citizens of Israel,” if you must):
Zionism is a problem for you.
I understand that. Zionism implies that all or part (I admit to being one of those who believe that “all” is correct) of the land between the river and the sea belongs to the Jewish people, while you believe that it is yours. We believe that we are the aboriginal tribes of the land of Israel; you say that you are.
This isn’t about that question. This isn’t about archaeology or history. I’ve written about those things countless times. I don’t think I could convince you that my point of view is correct, even though I’m certain that all the evidence shows that it is.
Rather, this is about today’s reality and how to live in it.
The reality is that Israel is a nation-state, the nation-state of the Jewish people. This is the most important statement made by our Declaration of Independence. Israel also does its best to be democratic (given the fact that half the world wants it destroyed), granting civil, political, and religious rights to all of its citizens. But there are other rights, which are called “national rights,” which include both symbolic and practical matters. There are symbols like the flag, the national anthem and the holidays, and there are practical principles like the Law of Return for Jews, not Arabs, the ingathering of the exiles, and the commitment to maintaining a Jewish majority.
The State of Israel is also committed to ensuring the rights of minorities. But those rights must not compromise the national rights of the Jewish people. This is why the Knesset saw fit to pass the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. There is sometimes a tension between these different kinds of rights, and the state must walk a fine line to ensure a balance. It may not be easy, but keeping it is precisely the vision of Zionism.
Not every country is a nation-state of a particular people. The USA belongs to all American citizens. No single ethnic group can claim national rights in it. Unlike dozens of Muslim nations, no religion is privileged in it either. Although a majority of Americans are Christian, there are no special rights for Christians. There is no Christian cross in the American flag.
Today, ethnic nation-states are somewhat out of favor, especially in Western Europe and North America. Many people living in those places have a hard time understanding or accepting the idea that a people’s self-determination can include choosing to establish an ethnic nation-state – particularly if that people happens to be the Jewish people. Perhaps this is because the Jewish people, for thousands of years, were not allowed self-determination. They were required to live in somebody else’s nation-state, and these states generally did not even try to provide human, civil, political, or religious rights to all of their citizens (if indeed Jews were even counted as citizens).
There is one and only one Jewish state in the world, compared to 23 Arab states. Even if you accept the contention that there is a historic Palestinian people – and not just a group of Arabs of various origins that recently coalesced in opposition to the establishment of Israel – there is a state that was created from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and the partition of the Palestine Mandate that arguably is rightfully theirs, and that is Jordan.
Israel was established in a costly and terrible war. The war never truly ended, with outbursts of great violence interspersed with periods of “peace” characterized by small wars and terrorism against us. The stated goals of our various enemies have varied, from Nasser to Arafat to the Iranian mullahs and even including our self-designated moral superiors in the EU, but the intent has always been the same: to end Jewish self-determination. And our reaction, because Zionism tells us that self-determination is worth fighting for, has been and will continue to be to fight for it.
So here is what I want to tell you, Arab citizens of Israel:
For many of you, living in a Jewish state is uncomfortable. I understand. We Jews lived in other people’s nation-states for 2000 years, and it was often far more uncomfortable for us than it is for you in today’s Israel.
You have at least these alternatives:
- You can continue to live in the Jewish state with full political and civil rights – and if you feel that you don’t have those rights to the degree that you ought to, you can demand them. But don’t ask for national rights, because you won’t get them.
- You can move to a country like the USA or Canada, which are states of all their citizens, and become citizens yourselves.
- You can try to establish a Palestinian nation-state in Jordan, in which a majority of the population identifies as Palestinian, and which currently has a non-representative government.
I would prefer to cooperate than to fight. But our self-determination in the nation-state of the Jewish people is not negotiable.